Editing Wikipedia

I’ve been asked this question a few times recently, so thought it worth sharing my answer with everyone that reads this blog:

What’s the best way to approach editing Wikipedia articles about us?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to do this – the most obvious being that there are some factual inaccuracies that you want to correct – though sometimes there are other reasons too.

There have been several high profile incidents where Wikipedia has been edited – by either the individual who is the subject of the article or by an employee of an organisation with a page on the site – with various degrees of success or humiliation. Here’s my guide to getting more of the former and less of the latter.

My instinctive reaction is: don’t do it. Editing Wikipedia is a minefield and getting it right will take up an awful lot of time. Think about another way around it – could you publish a list of corrections on your own website, or on a blog? Perhaps encourage someone else who reads it to make the corrections, but leave Wikipedia itself well alone.

If you are determined to get involved, here’s what to do. Firstly, do not edit anonymously but create an account on the site. This is for the very good reason that your edits will not be anonymous anyway – your IP address will be recorded and if you are using a work computer, people will easily be able to find out where you are.

Instead, give yourself a username that’s understandable, not some random pseudonym. Then, open your personal user page and edit it to explain exactly who you are and who you work for. What you are aiming for is complete transparency – the last thing you want is people thinking that you are being sneaky.

Once that’s all done, it’s time to edit the entry itself. Or, rather, not – because my advice would be not to edit the text of the article itself first of all. Instead, I’d limit my edits to the article’s talk page initially. Explain in the page the inaccuracies, and perhaps link to the web page I mentioned earlier with a list of corrections. Then let the community do its work – some corrections will be made to the page – maybe all of them. What you are doing is giving the Wikipedians the facts, and allowing them to put their own house in order.

If that doesn’t happen, or if there is an urgent correction that needs making, then edit the text itself. Firstly, make the change, ensuring that you clearly link back to sources to back up your edits – and make sure you use the edit summary box to explain what you have done and why. Then, drop by the article’s talk page and again explain who you are, what change you made and why you did it.

Once all that is done, sign up to get email alerts when the page is changed so you can keep on top of what further edits people are making.

If you find that someone just goes in right away and reverts – that is, removes your edits and restores the page to how it looked before you started – do not get tempted into reverting their reversion! These tit-for-tat “edit wars” do nobody any good! Instead, try and engage with the person making the reversion, again through the article’s talk page, or on that user’s own page maybe. Most Wikipedipedians are friendly, conciliatory folk and you should be able to talk them into being more reasonable.

Of course, if that fails, there is always the Wikipedia arbitration process. Good luck with that.

For more on Wikipedia culture, I found Andrew Lih‘s book The Wikipedia Revolution pretty good. Lih is clearly a fan of Wikipedia, so it is hardly an unbiased account, but there is some really useful background in there.

Wikipedia Woes

Wikipedia is never far from the news, and the last week is no different.

First up is the decision to make outgoing links from Wikipedia include the nofollow tag. This basically means that the links are worth nothing in terms of search engine juice. They’ve done this as an antispam measure, but that’s no guarantee that it will work, as many commentators have pointed out. Just from my point of view, the fact that WordPress sticks nofollow on comment links on my blogs does not stop spammers attempting to post comments anyway. As Matt Mullenweg points out:

Wikipedia has decided to nofollow all external links to help offset people spamming the service. In theory this should work perfectly, but in practice although all major blogging tools did this two years ago and comment and trackback spam is still 100 times worse now. In hindsight, I don’t think nofollow had much of an effect, though I’m still glad we tried it.

There are also issues around the fact that Wikipedia is a link-attracting behemoth. Everyone links to it. So they’re taking all this inward traffic and search engine juice, but not giving anything out in return. That’s bad.

Mike Arrington notes another Wikipedia scandal-in-the-offing – Microsoft paying Wikipedia editors to do their bidding. On the face of it, that sucks, but when you read into it, Microsoft appear to at least be trying to do the right thing. As Rick Jeliffe (the Wikiwonk in question) writes:

…I was a little surprised to receive email a couple of days ago from Microsoft saying they wanted to contract someone independent but friendly (me) for a couple of days to provide more balance on Wikipedia concerning ODF/OOXML. I am hardly the poster boy of Microsoft partisanship! Apparently they are frustrated at the amount of spin from some ODF stakeholders on Wikipedia and blogs.

I think I’ll accept it: FUD enrages me and MS certainly are not hiring me to add any pro-MS FUD, just to correct any errors I see. If anyone sees any examples of incorrect statements on Wikipedia or other similar forums in the next few weeks, please let me know: whether anti-OOXML or anti-ODF. In fact, I already had added some material to Wikipedia several months ago, so it is not something new, so I’ll spend a couple of days mythbusting and adding more information.

Needless to say, Jimmy Wales and the other Wikipedia fans aren’t too pleased. Arrington notes that

It’s clear that the only way to safely clear the record on Wikipedia when you are involved party is in the discussion area of a page. Paying others to make direct changes isn’t smart, even if you tell them they are free to write their unbiased opinions (as happened in this case). And making direct changes yourself is likely to get you in hot water, too.

It’s a tricky situation. Microsoft tried to find a positive way through the mire of editing Wikipedia pages to right what were, in their eyes, wrongs. In turn, they got it wrong. Arrington’s way forward, of using the Talk page, might be one way through.

Edit: Weird. I just went back to the TechCrunch article to snaffle the link to Arrington’s article, and it’s gone. Not sure what this means about the story…

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Did Wikipedia Really Ban Quatar?

Of course they didn’t. But for a little while, it looked like they might have done:

Apparently Qatar has a single ISP, Qtel, with a single IP address
shared by the entire country. Wikipedia has blocked that IP address for
anonymous edits, but is allowing users of that IP address with actual
Wikipedia accounts to continue to edit articles. There’s one problem,
though. You can’t create an account if you enter Wikipedia from that IP
address.

Jimmy Wales quickly responded on the wiki talk page for the IP address in question:

Iff [sic] you came here from a news headline saying that Wikipedia has banned all of Qatar, please pop right back over there and post in the comments that the story is not true. This IP number was temporarily blocked for less than 12 hours, and a block of an entire nation would go absolutely against Wikipedia policy. In the English Wikipedia, such an action would require approval of at a minimum the English Arbitration Committee and/or me personally, and would never ever be undertaken lightly, nor without extensive attempts at direct negotiation with the ISP and/or nation in question.

To any and all reporters, from Slashdot, TechCrunch, mainstream media, etc.: You may email me and ask me for my personal cellphone number, which I will answer 24 hours a day to confirm or disconfirm any such story of this type.
–Jimbo Wales

Fair play to Wales, he does his best to put things right (he commented on the TechCrunch thread pretty quickly).

Once again, this ruckus has brought up the issue of Wikipedia requiring people to log in to edit. Wales seems set against it, determined that Wikipedia remains open.

[tags]Wikipedia, Techcrunch, Jimmy Wales[/tags]